Australia has just raised a red flag that should concern everyone: the world’s largest coral reef system is dying at an accelerated pace.
This past weekend, WWF Australia published some shocking photographs and a video of swathes of bleached coral in the Great Barrier Reef around Lizard Island.
WWF spokesperson Richard Leck says the footage depicts a very dire situation for the northern part of the reef where large sections of coral have been drained of all color in their fight for survival.
Just hours before the video was posted, Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt had to raise the reef’s threat level to the highest possible, following a plane surveying of the coral system.
Hunt said that the northernmost quarter of the reef poses a particular “cause for concern,” and experts added that bleaching in the aforementioned area is both as severe as it is widespread.
We are the generation that gets to witness the death of an enormous part of the largest reef system, and rising temperatures are to be blamed for the bleaching crisis.
According to Russell Reichelt, president of the Great Barrier Reef marine park authority, the northern side of the reef is the most affected, as sea surface temperatures here have surpassed 90 degrees in February.
Bathing in warm water for so many months isn’t something the reef is really good at coping with, as the heat stress that occurs becomes unbearable. The surveying of the area is not complete yet, but the impact of bleaching is accentuated as researchers go further north.
Earlier this month, researchers studying the area around Lizard Island said they have never seen such degree of coral mortality in at least 15 years. Most summers come with some minor bleaching, but this year blew the levels out of the water.
Researcher Lyle Vail, who was involved in the survey, said the coral bleaching thrives in what seems to be the perfect storm conditions.
“At the moment, we’ve got brilliant clear sunny skies, calm conditions, little tidal movement. A lot of that hot water on top of the reef flat is just staying there and cooking the coral,” she told the press.
The Great Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will now be under increased monitoring due to the severe bleaching event. Hunt has also announced some programs to tackle pollution and population growth of crown-of-thorns starfish, which feed on coral polyps.
Image Source: Times of Malta